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Debtors' Prison Is Back ~Just As Cruel As Ever

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By Ross Kenneth Urken

Posted 12:25PM 08/30/12
 
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–> To most of us, “debtors’ prison” sounds like an archaic institution, something straight out of a Dickens novel. But the idea of jailing people who can’t pay what they owe is alive and well in 21st-century America.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using a legal loophole to justify jailing poor citizens who legitimately cannot pay their debts.

Here’s how clever payday lenders work the system in Missouri — where, it should be noted, jailing someone for unpaid debts is illegal under the state constitution.

First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn’t paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an “examination”: a review of their financial assets.

If the debtor fails to show up for the examination — as often happens in such cases — the creditor can ask for a “body attachment” — essentially, a warrant for the debtor’s arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there’s a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

“Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they’ll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor’s release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor — essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders.”


Standing Up for Those Who Can’t Pay

The practice — in addition to putting an additional squeeze on poor people — turns courts and police into enforcers for private creditors, from payday lenders to health care providers. The situation prompted Illinois legislators in July to pass a bill “to protect vulnerable consumers from being hauled to jail over unpaid debts,” in the words of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The Debtors’ Rights Act of 2012 requires two “pay or appear” court notices to be sent to debtors before an arrest can be made, and also prevents creditors from calling for multiple examinations unless the debtor’s financial state has significantly changed.

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    • Anonymous

      The FEMA camps will have to be opened for this one. There aren’t enough prisons for all the people who have debts they can’t afford to pay back. Thanks to our full of himself dictator, the entire nation of America is in debt. Picking on the poorest people just goes to show that only the financially wealthy are of importance to his evilness in charge, sitting in his chair. He’s the criminal, put HIM in jail. They have a chair for him.

      • HfjNUlYZ

        That’s the plan of consumerism. Read “Silent weapons for a quiet war.”

        • Anonymous

          I will, thanks.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a crock. There are no debtor’s prisons.

    • Anonymous

      Tax the Roth Child 1000 trillion $ 1000 % get rid of the Fed and USA should print there own Money! backed by Gold!

    • Hang all drunkdrivers

      Debtor’s prisons have always been with us. You have a tax debt and don’t pay it, off you go to the can. Ask pete rose or wesley snipes. What really makes it awful is that tax debts are not your fault!!

    • Anonymous

      Can someone explain why a judge would turn bond money over to a creditor, with municipalities everywhere going bankrupt? Creditors have insurance for unpaid accounts. They can sell the debt to a collection agency for $0.10 on the dollar and then write off the ENTIRE loan amount as a loss. It’s actually in their business plan. This article is BS.

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